Most Popular Racing Cars of the 1980s

Many automotive enthusiasts worldwide consider the 1980s to be the most significant era for cars in history. Not only did we get incredible daily drivers that changed the game, but the racing scene was at its peak as well. Some people even refer to the 80s as the best era for Formula 1 Racing.

Just recovering from the 1973 oil crisis, Iran hit the world with the second oil shock in the shape of the 1979 oil crisis, but that didn’t stop manufacturers from pioneering new techniques and debuting some of the most iconic cars of all time.

In this article, we’ll be taking a look at the racing side of the 1980s’ automotive scene with ten of the most popular racing cars that defined the cutting-edge pursuit of that era.

1. Lamborghini Countach LP500 S

The Countach made Lamborghini what it is today. The LP500 S was unlike anything else available at the time. Simply put, it looked out of this world. If you thought of a sports car appearing in a sci-fi movie in the 80s, you’d probably think of the Countach because of its distinctive colors, curves, and sheer power. For that reason, this car also populated countless posters in teenagers’ rooms throughout the world.

Powered by a monstrous 4.8 L V12 engine that produced a ludicrous 748 HP, the Countach cut through the air with its Italian Wedge design. The scissor doors were unheard of, and the design was so stylish that it appealed to even the most persistent enthusiasts. The Countach ushered in the supercar revolution and made Lanmborgini the poster boy for eccentric sports cars.

2. Ferrari F40 / 288 GTO

We have included both the F40 and the 288 GTO here, as, without the 288, the F40 wouldn’t exist. The F40 is the fastest sports car of the 80s, with many calling it the best sports car of all time. The car is perfect from every aspect and truly warrants its exorbitant $1.1 million price tag with its kevlar construction and cutting-edge tech present inside. It was also the last Ferrari made in Enzo’s lifetime and the first car ever to break the 200mph record.

Featuring a 2.9L turbocharged V8 engine with a max output of 471 HP, the F40 was a proper beast. Likewise, its predecessor, the 288 GTO, was no less of a beast with a twin-turbo V8 engine at 400 HP. Many people seem to forget the 288 GTO in the F40’s light; in reality, both of these cars are synonymous and equally depict street racing’s pinnacle.

3. The DeLorean

As a timepiece, the DeLorean perhaps holds the most value of any vehicle in the world. It’s literally the time machine; it’s what made Back To The Future so iconic. This car is the epitome of automotive representation in pop culture, and that’s why it’s so high on the list.

Because, otherwise, as just a car, it was explicitly mediocre. Troubled with lousy handling, sub-par speeds, and insufficient power, this vehicle never really graced any tracks outside of Hollywood. But the sheer awesome-factor surrounding this vehicle is enough to get any enthusiasts riled up, even if its performance can’t.

4. Porsche 944 (Turbo)

Many say that the 944 was essentially Porsche’s way of saying that they are more than just the 911. Regardless of their message, this car was terrific from front to back and showed that Porsche had more than only one trick up its sleeve. 

Like the 924, the 944 also adapted a front-engine design and used water-cooling. It had a 2.7L supercharged engine under the hood, which packed 247 HP, which gave the driver enough power to cruise around with comfort and speed, the lightweight body contributing to that. You’d be hard-pressed to find a car that’s as easy to control and well-handled as the 944 Turbo.

5. Nissan Skyline GT-R

Known as the “Godzilla” worldwide, the Skyline GT-R was aptly given that moniker because it was a Japanese monster. Not only did it win every race, but it was also a part of the Japanese Touring Car Championship, dominating foreign countries. If kitted out with aftermarket parts, this car could reach an out-of-this-world 1000 HP.

It was powered by a twin-turbo 6-cylinder V6 engine that could produce up to a beastly 512 HP of maximum output. The model never saw any sales in the US, but it amassed an immense fan-following worldwide for its incredible fitness on the track.

6. Buick GNX

If understated but not underwhelming is your style, then the Buick GNX is your dream car. Featuring an all-black, sleek, minimal paint job, this car may not have looked the best, but it had a ton of power under the hood. The GNX was made in collaboration with McLaren and was only produced in minimal quantities.

Regarding the performance, this car packed a 3.8L turbocharged V6 engine inside, which had a maximum output of 276 HP. It was extremely fast around the corners, went from 0-60 in just 4.7 seconds, and did all that on an automatic transmission.

7. Audi Quattro

This 4-wheel drive was an absolute behemoth of its time, and even to this day, is considered monstrous in terms of its performance. The Audi Quattro featured an innovative all-wheel-drive system powered by a five-cylinder engine that made the car drive like butter.

Being both a road and a rally car, it was capable of 197 HP, which pushed the car’s top speed to 220 km/h. The Quattro was a stunner in looks, too, featuring a hatchback design that stood out in the 80s, and even today, it shows that it has aged better than many others of that era. 

8. BMW M3 E30

The BMW M3 has legendary status among petrolheads who have even an ounce of interest in racing. Finding one today is also very difficult as this has become a full-blown collector’s piece over the years, and for a good reason. 

It had a powerful 4-cylinder engine which was able to deliver 300 HP. The car also felt very balanced and provided a smooth drive which made it even more desirable. The M3 cemented itself as not only one of the best formula racing cars of the 80s, but also one of the best cars made in the 80s. It was crowned as the classic BMW race car by many enthusiasts and even the best driving car of all time by its closest advocates. 

9. Ford Mustang GT

When you think of 1980s sports cars, the image that comes to mind is that of the classic Mustang GT. While there are many iterations of Ford’s Mustang, even within the 80s themselves, the 1987 Mustang GT represents the best of them. Many enthusiasts even argue that it was the best-selling sports car of that era.

Packing in a manual transmission V8 engine that pushed the car to 225 HP, the Mustang GT was one beautiful monster that felt elegant to drive. The top speed for this car clocks in at 137mph with a 0-60 of just 6.3 seconds. With a car this fast, this classy, and this historical, what more could you ask for?

10. Mazda RX-7

Few cars get it as right as the Mazda RX-7. The first two generations of this car were extremely popular in the 80s because of the full package it delivered. The rotary engine present inside was unlike anything seen before and contributed to this car’s renowned handling. The car itself was modern yet still retained a classic look and feel at the same time.

The RX-7 Turbo took things to the next level by introducing a turbocharged engine that pushed the power to 182 HP. Moreover, the second-generation RX-7 borrowed heavy design cues from the Porsche 944 and even followed its aerodynamics model to create a truly remarkable car that felt rewarding to drive.

Conclusion

For some people, having such an affinity for vehicles may seem bizarre. But for petrolheads and car enthusiasts, these vehicles are the last remaining sigils of an era long lost.

For new hobbyists who never witnessed these times, seeing these vehicles gives them an idea of what the world was like before. Like many others, the cars above are time capsules representing their respective period and telling unique stories that would’ve been lost otherwise. And the fact that you can drive these stories and put them to utility is just the cherry on top.

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